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Am J Physiol. 1996 Feb;270(2 Pt 1):E363-6.

Gender differences in muscle sympathetic nerve activity: effect of body fat distribution.

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  • 1Clinical Diabetes and Nutrition Section, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, National Institutes of Health, Phoenix, Arizona, 85016, USA.


Muscle sympathetic nerve activity (MSNA) has been correlated with percent body fat (%BF) in males. Because MSNA is typically lower and %BF higher in females, we tested whether this relationship could be generalized to females. Because abdominal-visceral body fat in men may be responsible for elevated sympathetic activity, we hypothesized that an estimate [waist-to-thigh ratio (W/T)] would correlate positively with MSNA in both genders and account for higher MSNA in males. Microneurography, hydrodensitometry, and W/T measures were obtained in 14 males and 14 females with a large range of %BF and W/T. Regression analyses revealed positive correlations between MSNA and %BF in males (r = 0.55, P = 0.04) and in females (r = 0.63, P = 0.02), with no difference in the slopes of the regression lines but a higher intercept in males (P < 0.01). When genders were pooled, MSNA and W/T were correlated (r = 0.68, P < 0.0001); this positive correlation was also found in males (r = 0.57, P = 0.04) but not as strongly in females (r = 0.49, P = 0.07). Forward stepwise multiple-regression analysis using %BF, W/T, gender, and age indicated that W/T was the primary factor related to MSNA (R2 = 0.46); the other factors were not independent predictors. It is concluded that %BF is related to MSNA in both males and females but that the regression line is shifted downward in females because of lower levels of MSNA. W/T is a better correlate of MSNA than %BF and partially explains the higher MSNA in males. These findings may be relevant to the cardiovascular and metabolic disease risk associated with abdominal obesity.

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